Republicans are a bit too confident about the midterm elections and more vulnerable than they think.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has told key party donors that the Republicans will not offer a legislative platform but rather run against President Joe Biden’s record.
Plenty of ammo
At first glance, they have got plenty of ammunition—inflation at historic levels, shortages at grocery stores, social justice mayors and elected prosecutors presiding over rising crime in Democratic cities, teachers’ unions advocating critical race theory in our schools, the Afghanistan debacle and no credible administration answer to the rising tide of imports from China.
It’s easy to tie these to Biden’s legislative program and progressive appointments. His $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was financed largely by printing new money. His energy secretary appears not to know how much oil the country uses—that’s in the monthly energy review that her department publishes.
However, the Republicans would do well to remember that George W. Bush was elected with a tightly divided Congress. Like Biden with his stimulus package and infrastructure bill, Bush enjoyed some bipartisan accomplishments and then defied the historical odds to pick up seats in both houses in his first midterms.
With the 2022 midterm election just months away, the Democratic Party faces losing its congressional majority due to a growing number of retirements. Photo illustration: Elise Dean
It’s still early
The world has a way of changing.
Biden may well have Vladimir Putin overextended. Invading Ukraine will summons severe American and European sanctions, and Russia may be tied down by a terrible guerrilla resistance the Americans could supply.
Inflation will moderate, even if it remains too high and shortages persist. The economy should improve in the spring and summer as the omicron variant subsides and COVID becomes endemic.
Everyone likes something for nothing. Child-care subsidies, less expensive higher education and student debt relief, sick leave for front-line workers and some measure of social justice to make amends for the scars of racism are appealing—just not altogether compelling a discussion of how to pay for those.
In a political campaign, progressives such as Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal can promise the moon without mentioning mortgaging the country.
McCarthy apparently understands this, and, opposite to McConnell, has established seven task forces to draft a Republican agenda. I shudder to think of what they will come up with—impractical ideas and more tax cuts.
His Parent’s Bill of Rights is quite high sounding but reaching into local school boards, firing radicalized superintendents of schools, and combating teachers union leaders is trench warfare for governors, state legislatures and local school boards, and not presidents and Congress.
Americans trying to get back to work and resume some semblance of normal lives need help.
Republicans can offer to rationalize existing working-family support programs—the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, dependent tax credit and the like—into a single payment for each child that’s available to all families with at least one employed parent.
Mothers who want to stay home while their husband works should be supported and not told they live in a “Father Knows Best” past. Those choosing careers, whether making sandwiches or designing semiconductors, should get ready cash to pay for child care, transportation to schools or whatever else they think appropriate.
A GOP Congress could reform higher education by fixing student loans—deny credit for college programs that leave students with debt exceeding their starting salaries and impose a tax on large university endowments to help write down existing debts.
Trust me, I could take a scalpel to university budgets that might actually get faculty focused on teaching and counseling students.
Pushing back against Biden
A GOP Congress could compel the U.S. Trade Representative to come up with a credible tariff policy with clear annual milestones to slash the trade deficit with China and move sourcing to factories here and our allies elsewhere in Asia. And for the defense secretary to finally come up with a credible plan to modernize the Navy and Air Force to meet the China challenge in the Pacific and defend our allies, starting with Taiwan.
A GOP Senate could start sending back woke presidential appointments and compel the president to find candidates with clearer plans to solve problems in tune with broad American sensibilities, not the preferences of the Acela Corridor elites.
What is genuinely empowering is clearing a path and providing resources for Americans to solve their own problems and international leadership that reflects America’s courage and sensible character—that’s what the GOP should be selling.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.